Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Book Report: The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark by Carl Sagan

Image result for Carl Sagan Demon haunted worldAs I found myself looking at the book list to choose one book to work on for this book report, I couldn't be help but drawn to Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle In The Dark. The title of the book just stood out to me. I was initially intrigued by learning of this so-called "demon haunted world" and was even more fascinated as to how science was the light that could expel these "demons" back into the darkness. After cracking the book open and reading it the past three weeks, I was pleasantly surprised with Sagan's brilliant writings. Sagan with great finesse has covered many topics related to pseudoscience and successfully debunks even the most mystical this world has to offer. Armed with his sword of science and skepticism, Sagan has cut through the ideas of UFOS, alien abductions, faith healings, the existence of Atlantis,  crop circles, witchcraft, invisible dragons lurking in the garage, demons, apparitions, psychics, and the list goes on. Sagan accomplishes his debunking goals in the most elegant of fashion while simultaneously constantly reminding us all the importance of being a skeptic and filling us with excitement for the true science of our vast universe.

Sagan's book was designed in a very orderly fashion. Each chapter goes into detail about the various above aforementioned pseudosciences. It is within these chapters that Sagan describes the particular pseudoscience and then mentions how people can become susceptible to the said pseudoscience. He successfully debunks the pseudoscience in question utilizing factual evidence. Sagan's primary objective is not  to rashly put down those believers but, has a more noble end goal in mind. It was Sagan's desire to install a natural love for science in all people and demonstrate the importance of being skeptical while telling of the various dangers of pseudoscience.  
Image result for Carl Sagan science

My favorite part of Sagan's masterpiece was located in chapter 13: Obsessed with Reality. Within this chapter, Sagan recalled an event that occurred in the late 80s concerning a young man by the name of Jose Luis Alvarez.  The story went, that Jose had suffered a motorcycle accident in 1986, suffered a mild concussion, and awoke with the ability to channel a 2000 year old spirit named "Carlos". The entity that was known as "Carlos" would allegedly take hold of Alvarez's body  when Alavarez's pulse would slow down to the point of death. Apparently, the entity Carlos was able to tell of prophecies and share his ancient wisdom to all.

Carlos appeared on television in Australia in 1988. Prior to Carlos's arrival, the Australian media was greeted with press kits and a videotape that demonstrated the channeller's ability to summon Carlos.  The press kit was especially interesting as it included details of the entity Carlos in America. It was notable the this kit included  a video of Carlos appearing on Broadway theater and an interview with the Ney York radio station known as WOOP. After digesting this press kit, the Australian media was ready for Alvarez to channel Carlos. Carlos appeared on the Australian Today Show. During the show the  host, George Negus, asked a few rational and skeptical questions of Carlos which yielded him being cursed by Carlos and was then was buffeted by a glass of water as the channeller stormed off the stage. The following days Carlos appeared on another television program in which a skeptic was revealed a magician trick in which one can cut off the blood pulse in one arm by squeezing a rubber ball in ones armpit. Carlos was furious and abruptly ended the interview. Shortly thereafter, the Sydney Opera house was full of admiring and wonder filled people eager to see the entity known as Carlos.  The show thrilled the viewers and they where filled with excitement.

After the thrills at the Opera house, Carlos was to appear on Sixty Minutes. All of Australia was surprised to at this episode as it essentially revealed that the entity Carlos was a hoax devised by none other than the Amazing James Randi! Sagan, in the later part of the chapter, discussed how Randi devised the whole ordeal and effectively "bamboozled" all of Australia.  Alvarez was a young sculptor and also was one of Randi's tenants. Randi knew in order for his plan to work that he needed someone with no formal training in magic or public speaking. Randi simply asked Alvarez if he wanted to go along with his master plan and Alvarez agreed. "Carlos" was then created all while Alvarez has a rather hard to detect radio receiver in his ear with James Randi on the other end of the transmission. The press kit was full of non factual information that Australia was let down by their lack of skepticism to fact check. There was no radio station in New York called WOOP. The Broadway tape was courtesy of Randi having Penn and Teller doing a small favor for him. Alvarez simply went on stage in his white smock and had the audience applause and then Alvarez simply went off stage.

The reasoning that Sagan included this was merely to express how vital it is for all of us humans to be weary and exercise skepticism when it is called on to do so. Sagan mentioned how "lucky" we were to have James Randi to expose and debunk the pseudo science behind psychics and channellers.  He noted that it would be dangerous to rely simply on the Amazing Randi to do all the exposing which Sagan followed up by stating, "If we don't want to get taken, we need to do this job for ourselves." (Sagan, 241).  As we discussed in this course, psychics and channellers are armed with the ability to be rather vague and applicable to many people. In a world full of those who have an innate ability to be vague, yet convincing and charismatic, it is the hopes of Sagan and Randi that we as a human race keep our wits about us. As history as shown us from people like "Carlos's" ancient wisdom,  Peter Popoff's "faith healings", Nostradamus's extraordinary "foresight", and Noreen Renier's "Keen psychic ability" to locate the corpse of Charles Capel is that our world is full of mysticism and various pseudosciences and it is easy to fall victim being immersed in a gullible world without the light of science.
(Above is a meme I created using an alien that I found off a google image and a photo of my back yard. The power of photo editing can create power images that can lead to some folks accepting pseudoscientific ideas. Would one consider this imagine I created of an alien materializing in my back yard as scientific evidence?) 

Throughout Sagan's book,  many people have fall victim to various forms of heuristics when considering things such as aliens, witches, psychics, and such. Skepticism is not just a toll of the past and Sagan made it clear that without using skepticism moving forward, our society would be essentially "on fire". Our children most find a natural desire to know the truth and love to see how magnificent the world is in tis scientific reality. It is vital for future generations to be skeptical so that the past mistakes of our ancestors will not be doomed to be repeated.  Skepticism is very applicable to the modern day real world. We often hear reports of "fake news" in various media outlets. In a world were skepticism is not exercised by most of the human population and learning is considered "not cool" to many, it is not hard to fathom why so many people are astonished to find out they been bamboozled by an Onion news article they read on social media. I can only imagine that Mr. Sagan sheds a tear from wherever he is currently in the vast cosmos for every child who fails to cut through the various pseudoscience and in turns grows up to be the next "Mr. Buckley". If their is one thing you take away from Sagan's book, is always approach everything with respect for science, an open mind, and be skeptical to detect you way through your way through the baloney that still exists in the world today.

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